DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother died at age 42 from colon cancer, and naturally I am quite concerned. I would like the facts on this cancer and what I can do to prevent it. How much of a risk do I have because my mother had it? – F.L.

ANSWER: Having a first-degree relative – a mother, father, sister, brother or child – who has had colon cancer puts a person at two to three times the risk of a person without any such family history.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death, coming in second only to lung cancer.

Most colon cancers start out as polyps – small growths that sprout from the colon lining. It takes five to 10 years for a polyp to transform into cancer, and that provides people with leeway for taking the steps necessary to discover polyps at an early stage. Everyone, beginning at age 50, should have a colon examination with a colonoscope, a sigmoidoscope or a barium enema. The colonoscope inspects the entire length of the colon, and the doctor can remove polyps during the examination – a definite advantage. Colonoscopies need repeating every 10 years. A sigmoidoscope reaches only a limited portion of the colon, and it needs to be repeated every five years, as does a barium enema. Yearly, a stool specimen should be examined for blood that cannot be detected by the naked eye.

For those who are at higher risk for colon cancer, these screening tests ought to begin at age 40.

Diet plays a role in prevention. Limit the amount of fat and red meat you eat. Increase your daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day seems to have a protective effect, but the fiber issue is one that is always challenged. Everyone should get that amount of fiber to keep regular, regardless of the cancer issue. Making sure to take 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium a day and a good supply of vitamin D also lowers the colon cancer risk, as does exercise and maintaining normal body weight.

The colon cancer booklet spells out screening suggestions and the preventive steps for this cancer. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 505, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Our baby boy has only one kidney. The doctor is not concerned about this, but my wife and I are. How can he live a normal life with only one kidney? Will his growth be affected? – G.M.

ANSWER: Humans do quite well with only one kidney. In fact, they can do well with only part of one kidney. Your son ought to have a normal life span and a normal life. His growth will not be affected.

Doctors might advise the boy not to participate in contact sports in order to avoid traumatizing the kidney. Apart from that, restrictions on him are few.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My next-door neighbor and best friend was treated for pneumonia for two months with different antibiotics. Then she was put in the hospital, and I am told she has BOOP. When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. It is not. What is it, and how is it treated? – M.A.

ANSWER: “BOOP” stands for bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia. It’s a condition affecting small airways (bronchioles) and air sacs (alveoli). Its cause is unknown. The name sounds strange because it was coined quite recently – in 1985. Most people have never heard of it.

Your neighbor’s story is typical. It often takes two months of symptoms before the true diagnosis is made. People have a dry cough, are fatigued and might lose weight during the initial months. Frequently they are believed to have pneumonia and are put on antibiotics.

The diagnosis is made with a lung biopsy that displays the typical microscopic pattern of this condition.

Steroids – cortisone drugs – are its treatment.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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